Friday, February 16, 2007

Congress Finally Moving in the Right Direction Again

Finally, some good political news for Katrina recovery efforts! House Democrats presented a plan today to waive a Stafford Act requirement that local and state governments pay matching funds for disaster relief for governments affected by Hurricane Katrina. These funds were waived following 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew, and waiving them now will save the state of Louisiana $700 million. An additional $3.6 billion will in aid will be tacked on to an Iraq/Afghanistan spending bill. Kudos to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). There’s a good editorial in today’s Boston Globe about the renewed push.

Unfortunately, the real problem with the federal response to Katrina isn’t a lack of funding, it’s a lack of oversight. As I wrote about earlier this month, the official homeowner grant program has $7.5 billion to distribute – but out of 101,000 applicants, only 632 have been paid as of February 12. The “Road Home” program has been in full operation since October – why so slow? Why so many errors? And of the $350 million for “alternative housing” that FEMA shelled out last month, why did Mississippi get $280.8 million to Louisiana’s $74.5 million?

Hopefully increased oversight and accountability will accompany the increased funding. Senator Joe Liebermann’s (I-CT) Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and Rep. Barney Franks’ (D-MA) House Financial Services Committee have both opened investigations into issues surrounding Katrina recovery. I say huzzah, it’s a good start.

Photo Credit: A trailer in Westwego, LA, destroyed by the recent tornado. I can't quite tell, but it looks like a FEMA trailer.

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